Delegation is not about abdication or subjugation - done properly it is all about empowerment.
The methodology for a particular project had been decided and defined in the IT blueprint, so the CIO was well within his rights to feel a little surprised when one of his team members had a private word with the CEO to say he thought there was a better way to tackle things.
A less confident manager might have crash-tackled the white-anting staffer to bring him back into line, but the CIO of the government department merely pointed out that the individual would not get anywhere fast riding his own horse, and if he had concerns the best place to air them was in regular IT team meetings. "It has to come back to the blueprint, and where he was headed was different to where we were headed as a group. So I told him that rather than talking to the CEO about it he should bring it into the group. He had started a dialogue with the most senior member of the organization, but his idea would not fly as an individual, he has to bring it into the team."
As it stands the CIO has a good relationship with the staff member and was able to steer him back towards the group, but he acknowledges that in a situation, "where the CIO is under threat or the CEO is under threat, then that could be a very charged discussion, because if you are under threat then you are battening down the hatches".
Delegation is viewed as a core competency for CIOs. As one CIO says, "You simply can't have enough bandwidth to do it all yourself."
Besides accessing a broader bandwidth, a delegating CIO is also succession planning, mentoring and developing staff, opening up communication channels that can just as easily feed good ideas up to the CIO as feed down tasks to the staff, reducing organizational risk, and freeing himself or herself to think strategically about the next step. If the people delegated to then delegate on other tasks, there is a cascading improvement of the entire IT workforce's skills. But in letting go of the reins the CIO must be certain of the team's capabilities, establish clear communications channels to avoid being blindsided by a project going off the rails and also be confident of withstanding any white-anting attempts.
It is perhaps the threat of white-anting that has some CIOs still attempting to run the show single-handedly. A recently appointed CIO of a media company succeeded a manager who had opted for a completely flat IT structure. "Under the prior CIO everyone got their tasks directly from the CIO, even the lowest technical officer. I think that a flat team is put in place by a manager fearful of being white-anted. They make sure they touch everything to retain control."
The CIO is now replacing that structure and constructing a "small council of peers", which can assume certain responsibilities and then work in turn with their own teams. He is also creating a career development structure and freeing up the CIO position from many mundane tasks. This CIO is adamant that delegation is not just about farming out chores, it is also about assuming the role of mentor for the next level of IT executive coming through the ranks.
Having himself experienced good mentors in the past, he believes that the mutual respect that such an approach engenders actually reduces the risk of a CIO being undermined by disloyal staff. "I've been lucky to have mentor types above me and because of the respect I have for them, the thought of white-anting would simply not cross my mind," he says. "In my discussions with the IT staff I'm highly consultative, and if for example they come to me with a complaint about someone, then I would bring that person in too. I won't be lobbied. Complaints should be heard . . . in the open."
According to another CIO, one man's perception of white-anting might be another's tolerance for debate. "Absolutely there is the opportunity for white-anting - but it depends on the nature of the white-anting. Is it there to undermine you or to get a better outcome for the organization? Sometimes it can be to get a better outcome but is perceived as white-anting." He believes though that "the clearer we are in articulating the vision the less opportunity there is for white-anting because everyone is working towards a defined outcome."
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